Check out the Rogue Audio RP-1 around $1,600 or you may can still get a Rogue Audio Metis for around $1,495 I have a Metis and have been very pleased with it. American made and great customer service. I also play Classic Rock very loud.
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Take a breath, relax and wait for a Joule Electra LA-100 Mark iii or one of the late Judd Barber’s other masterpieces comes onto the market. They’re out there, some in great shape and in your price range. You’ll be hard pressed to find a less-than-stellar review of his pre’s I just acquired a Mark iii for $1500, which seems to be a fair deal, and I couldn’t be happier.
I just installed a Schiit Loki EQ device that sells for only 149 from the Schiit website. It has four knobs that have a decent click at dead center and are turned left or right to influence the EQ. Each of the four knobs controls a different EQ range, rather than just the old “bass/treble”. It is passive, and has a bypass switch to take it off line if desired. It gets VERY HIGH reviews by users as not molesting the quality of the signal. I can not determine any negative impacts to soundstage or quality of sound. Each knob adjust at a very slight EQ level for the first portion of the turn, then gets more aggressive as you turn it more, allowing for very fine tuning. You simply install in the signal path between your pre and power amp. This is not the old EQ design, it has the mastery of the latest technology that Schiit has become well known for, at a very good price. I too have a tube pre-amp, but with no EQ controls, I previously did not like any of this in my system. Im 65 yrs old and have been running tube equipment since I was 15. This is the first EQ i have allowed into my system, usually run everthing flat and straight. Its that good to my ears, and saves me a little money by not always rolling tubes to get the sound I am looking for. I now get to adjust it for every source and quality of EQ recordings to my taste. I usually don’t influence it much, but just enough to fine tune each source or specific music. Read the reviews on the Schiit website or on-line idependant reviews. Don’t like it? Send it back. But I don’t think you will, its that good.
Try the Schiit Freya 6SN7 preamp. $699 with 15 day return option and 5 year warranty. VERY flexible having passive, JFET-buffered and tube gain outputs. It is a balanced design that accommodates balanced and singled ended inputs and provides balanced and single ended outputs as well. A couple of the as supplied NOS Russian 6SN7 tubes were microphonic. Schiit quickly replaced them. With well-screened tubes it is completely quiet in all output modes. I’ve had one for going on 2 years now and use it very satisfactorily with three different amps (Taranis, Hegel, First Watt F7). The sound is excellent (detailed yet relaxed) and clearly reveals differences in program material, tubes, cabling and amps. I feel no need to spend more in search of better.
I'm a Freya/Loki owner (does that sound like an AA confession?), and wrote a little review of the Loki here when I first bought it...I'm a long time live sound engineer and musician, and consequently an irrational snob here and there who dislikes DSP (me and Steve Guttenberg it would seem) and the Loki is astonishingly transparent...no clicks or noise when engaging it, basically no impact on anything until Knob Turner arrives. And the Freya is also sort of amazing regardless of it's "so cheap it's irrelevant" cost, with more inputs and outputs including balanced than most anything out there, and 3 operating options with a remote that allows you to scroll through those options...I prefer the higher gain tubes as my little single ended tube amp needs some prodding, although it could all be a conspiracy to get me to buy a lot of 6SN7GTBs...if so it worked. Also, I can't imagine a better power supply would make the Loki work better, as it's so good as is.
I would recommend Aric Audio. Aric's products are simply fantastic. I purchased his Unlimited pre a few months back. All I can say is,WOW! I have it paired with a First Watt F5,Nola Boxer 2's with some pretty impressive results. (At least to my ears) Aric has a few different pre's to choose from. He is also great to deal with.
This is easy. Build or buy pre-assembled one of the top line models from tubes4hifi.com
You don't say whether or not you have a turntable. If you don't, then get the SP14. Preassembled and tested it is $1350 plus shipping, well within your budget. Or build the kit for $960. There's a level of enjoyment you get from building your own that nothing else can match.
If you need to have a phono preamp section, you could build one the outboard phono preamps they have, or do like I did and get the SP13 with their PH12 phono preamp. The board sizes along with the chassis space determines what is possible. The SP13 and SP14 are the same circuit, but have different, but electrically equivalent tubes. The SP13 uses 6CG7 tubes and the SP14 uses 6SN7 tubes.
My SP13 is as good as any tube preamp I've ever heard, and it cost me a lot less than most all of the hi-end tube preamps. It's certainly the equal of a Mac C22 or Marantz 7.
Within your budget, nothing can match a used Doge 8 preamp. It takes 4 x 12AT7 (line stage) and 4 x 12AX7 tubes (phono stage). It does both MM and MC.
It is however, very dependent on which tubes you select. I had very good success with Siemens ECC81S (12AT7) in the linestage and Shuguang black bottle 12AX7 in the phonostage.
I have a Linear Tube Audio MZ2 paired with a Halo A21 and am very happy with the result. Lots of great reviews and comments here on Agon. The Aric Audio pre's have also been highly praised, but I have not heard them.
Low rider: Indeed a linear power supply may result in an improvement. Its a 16V wart. I’ve got 3 warts on my system. To date I’ve addressed this by doubling up a Furhman power conditioner with EFI-EMi clamps on all my plugs/connectors, and isolate the warts as far away from my components as possible using a dedicated power strip for the warts also plugged into the Furhman. I’ve plugged and unplugged the warts at full power/volume and don’t hear them. Thats not to say soundage isn’t impacted. I’m dead quite on all inputs except my Mc phono, but don’t feel its coming from any of the warts. Tubes seem to be the #1 variable in the phono section noise department. I’ve done an AB comparison of the LOKi in/out of the system and detect no issues. Its clean. I strive for extreme detail as my MO and accomplish this via driving a large pair of ML electrostats bi-amped with a pair of NUForce STA-200’s, and a tube pre-amp that includes grid frame’s in the first section of the tubes and the Russian 75 HG Saratovs in the 2’nd part of the phono stage. Have also installed the little VIshay low uF bypass capacitors on both the Martin Logan high and medium stator caps, and run the same along with bypass capacitors and Mundorf Supreme EVO gold, silver & oil caps in the audio output stage of the pre-amp. Net, I can hear a flea walk across the recording studio. The soundstage is crisp, detailed, and deep. Not everyone likes this, I strive for it. But its extremely revealing of system, source, or recording issues. Not detected w/the Loki. But I have to admit in the quest for improvement, a linear supply may result in another step up. The challenge is numerous different voltages in the wall wart row. You think the industry would standardize. Need a Swiss knife LPI that can handle various voltages from one unit. The Schiit Loki is not a tube pre-amp, but I wanted to mention it because the topic author suggested EQ was important to their interest and its the first EQ that meets my expectations without molesting the SQ IMHO for what its worth.
I'm using NOS Sylvania 6SN7GTB "chrome domes" in the Freya (one pair is a Philco made by Sylvania...identical innards) and the sound is superb. They're not expensive, and I simply go with Dennis Had's recommendation of using NOS stuff if available. I have an Amperex 6SN7GTB as the driver originally supplied in my Had SE amp, and liked it enough to buy a backup...those suckers are hard to find.
Hi. I can second rocray's comments. About 6 months ago I purchased an Aric Audio Transcend 6SN7 tube pre-amp to pair with my Magnepan 1.7i's. and ancient Parasound H2200 power amplifier.
The Transcend transformed this system. It works very well with my SS amp and really opened up the Magnepans in a way that I was unable to achieve with my SS pre-amp. As rocray noted, Aric is a pleasure to work with. My version of the Transcend is Line Stage only, as I can't be bothered with records, or even CD's anymore. But Aric Audio does sell units with Phono Stages as well as separate phono stages.
His stuff is all point to point hand soldered and, as far as I know, all single ended. It sounds great.